Pitcher Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox starts against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Starter-turned-reliever-turned-reliever-turned-starter Chris Sale cemented his spot in the rotation Monday, with 15 strikeouts against the Rays, just one short of the franchise record.
* He actually struck out eight different Rays, some of them more than once. But that's just how we say it.
Chris Sale was a starting pitcher in college.
He was a relief pitcher in the minors, then again in the majors.
Then he was a starting pitcher in the majors. Then a relief pitcher. Then a starter again.
All this happened in the span of less than two full years. Just a few weeks ago, Sale was yanked from the rotation after experience a twinge in his elbow; maybe (we were told) he just couldn't handle the strain of pitching six or seven innings every five or six days.
But then his elbow felt better and he went back into the rotation and Monday afternoon Sale fell just one short of tying the White Sox' franchise record for strikeouts in one game. Throwing mostly mid-90s fastballs and sweeping sliders, Sale held the Rays to just one run over 7⅓ innings, striking out 15 while issuing only two walks.
Sale's opposite number, rookie left-hander Matt Moore, also pitched impressively, racking up 10 strikeouts with just one walk. But Adam Dunn continued his fantastic comeback with a two-run homer off Moore in the sixth inning, which was all the White Sox needed thanks to Sale, reliever Jesse Crain and rookie closer Addison Reed, who pitched a perfect ninth to earn his fifth save.
Sale had his 15 strikeouts after seven innings and 110 pitches, and came out for the bottom of the eighth to tie and perhaps break the franchise record for most K's in one game, with the record of 16 set by lefty Jack Harshman all the way back on July 25, 1954 against the Red Sox.
Harshman, like Sale, was something of a conversion project. But a different sort of conversion, as Harshman actually reached the majors as a first baseman, didn't hit much, and finally turned to pitching four years later. He enjoyed some pretty good seasons, but wasn't much of a strikeout pitcher. Well, actually he was, relatively speaking. In 1954, he finished second in the American League with 6.8 strikeouts per nine innings ... which today, of course, wouldn't raise even a single eyebrow among the cognoscenti. It was a different game then.
Anyway, Sale had a shot at Harshman. But the first batter in the bottom of the eighth, left fielder Rich Thompson, grounded to second base. That made 115 pitches for Sale, and manager Robin Ventura pulled him.